Who is the oldest quoran

The oldest Islamic papyri

The oldest historical and administrative papyri of Islam are kept in Heidelberg. These manuscripts, which represent particular rarities of Islamic culture, were bought on the market in Cairo and given to the university. Their analysis enables a better understanding of the early Islamic cultural history in its development process. At the Seminar for Languages ​​and Cultures of the Middle East, Raif Georges Khoury researched its content and published and commented on it in a series of books that were published from 1972 to 1986 under the title Codices Arabici Antiqui I-IV by Otto Harrassowitz-Verlag, Wiesbaden . More recent research now also allows a bridge to be built to the stories from “A Thousand and One Nights”.

The Arabs had known papyrus as writing material for the ancient Egyptians since the conquest of Egypt in the year 640. Nevertheless, we have only one document from this time about the sale of sheep to an officer under the first Arab governor and conqueror of the country Amr Ibn Al-As . Unfortunately, the sparsely preserved material is not dated, so that it is difficult to say with certainty that something comes from the first Islamic, that is, from the seventh century AD. Great care must be taken here so that the development of early Islamic culture is based on solid knowledge and not from theoretical principles based on wishful thinking. The fact is that writing did not begin until the end of the seventh century - and then only gradually - so that larger Islamic writings are unimaginable before the following age. In any case, we have no trace of it. It was not until the seventh century that the cultural centers began to work more and more efficiently, in the course of the expansion of the Islamic empire: Political, religious, social and private interests show the imperative to better connect the huge provinces with one another, only after the abundant supply of writing materials, especially of papyrus, as long as the paper was not yet known. The first paper mill in Iraq is said to have been built by the Abbasid Caliphs towards the end of the eighth century.

This shows what a unique chance it is that the oldest surviving cultural documents of Islam are kept in Heidelberg, all of which date back to the first and second Islamic centuries and were recorded in writing by the family members of their authors and narrators or by their immediate students. Because apart from these manuscripts there are only a few documents about private or social business life. Of course, much was destroyed by war and natural disasters, but what is decisive for the sparse sources is that during this time the knowledge was passed on orally and hardly in writing. The newly discovered paper meant no significant competition for papyrus until the end of the ninth century, as the quality first had to be improved and it was more difficult to preserve, especially in the event of floods or catastrophes.

However, Arabic papyrology is a young science that includes all old materials, such as documents on parchment or wood. It was not until 1824 that two papyri were discovered during excavations in Egypt. In 1877, sensational quantities were brought to light in the ruins of ancient Egyptian settlements. From then on the finds multiplied. They were first brought to Europe, primarily to Vienna, where Archduke Rainer made sure that the National Library received the largest collection in the world, which celebrated its centenary in 1983. In Germany, some cities received more or less important papyrus collections. The most important came to Heidelberg, in which the Greek pieces predominate, but there are also a few hundred Arabic pieces, mainly business letters, documents and tax slips.

Correspondence from the Governor of Egypt

Among the Arabic papyri around the world, the rarities presented here take pride of place. Like all of them in the Heidelberg collection, they bear the designation PSR, Papyri Schott-Reinhardt, in memory of the collector Reinhardt, who worked as a dragoman in the German consulate in Egypt and made the purchases, and of the benefactor Schott, who as former director of the Portland cement works in Heidelberg and Mannheim, today Heidelberger Zement AG, and made the particularly generous donations. These are some particularly valuable letters from the official correspondence of the governor of Egypt in the early Maya period, Kurra Ibn Sharik - he ruled from 709 to 714 - about tax and economic regulations. They make up the majority of this tradition and are dated to the Islamic year 91 (710 AD). They were published in Heidelberg in 1906 by the Arabist Carl Heinrich Becker, who, according to sources, was the most distinguished private lecturer at our university. In addition, there are still a few letters in Cairo, Vienna, London, Paris and Chicago that were published by him and other Arabists over the course of the previous decades.

All other items in the Heidelberg collection were published by the author of the report. First, it is the oldest known biography of the Prophet Mohammed, consisting of 21 pages, published in 1972. It contains some episodes from the life and campaigns of the founder of Islam, the most important of which should be mentioned: the public appearance of Muhammad and the homage that an ancient Arab tribe pays to him. The meeting of the leaders of his Kuraish tribe in the town hall and their resolution to liquidate their member, who had shaken their position politically, socially and religiously by his new religion. The emigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina, who, according to the source, miraculously escapes the persecution of his tribe, whereby the Archangel Gabriel, who according to Islamic tradition had proclaimed the Koran on behalf of Allah, protects him against his persecutors, so that he at passes them without being seen by them. His way to Medina and the performance of some miracles until he passes a landlady who gives the oldest known description of Muhammad to her husband returning from the pasture. The play ends with his cousin Ali marching against an ancient Arab tribe, whom he brought to Islam by killing some of his heroes in a duel.

The second piece contains the oldest story of King David known in Islam, from the oldest book on the history of the biblical prophets in Islam. It tells of the election of Saul by Samuel as the first king of the Israelites; the fight of Saul against the Amalekites and the appearance of young David against Goliath, whom he stretches to the ground with his sling and whose army he drives to flight with the rest of the stones in his sling; about Saul's fight against David, to whom Saul fulfills his promise to give him his daughter as a wife, but does not want to give half of his kingdom and instead tries to kill him. David is saved from her father's vengeance by his own wife. This is followed by Saul's repentance and death. David becomes king. The papyrus reports on his power and mode of government; about his desire for the wife of Urias, his death and marriage to her; about repenting of this sin - unique images of temptation, the shed tears and the forgiveness of Allah. The subject is also the fight against his rebellious son Absalom and his death after the king has regained the mercy of Allah. In Islam, the principle applies that Allah never abandons a repentant prophet - these are all our biblical figures and a few Arab ones. This is followed by the appearance of Solomon and the first signs of his wisdom as a child, which is expressed in three jurisdictions. The play ends with the death of David and the seizure of power by his son Solomon.

For the edition in the Codices Arabici Antiqui, it was possible to reliably reconstruct these two papyri almost completely with the help of old manuscripts - especially the story of David, which was in a very fragmented state. In Arabic studies all of these pieces were considered unacceptable. They were published for the first time, together with a monograph on their author and first narrator, Wahb Ibn Munabbih (655 - 728), judge of Sana, who is considered the oldest historian in Islam. He passed on the oldest books not only about the biblical history in Islam, whereby he is to be mentioned as the first mediator between Islam, Judaism and Christianity, but also about the ancient Arabic, Yemeni history, about the Islamic prophet and about the first caliphs after Muhammad. They were written in part on papyri by himself and entirely by members of his family at the beginning of the second half of the eighth century.

A version of the two papyri analyzed here ended up in the private library of the Egyptian author of the papyrus scroll described below, of which a version from the beginning of the ninth century, known as the Heidelberg Papyrus, has been preserved. These pieces are thus the oldest dated book manuscripts in Islam. The only surviving papyrus roll from early Islam is 189 centimeters long and labeled on both sides, which results in 63 printed pages. Its content mainly relates to the ritual and legal life in Islam from the point of view of Egyptian-Islamic scholars, beginning with the author Abdallah Ibn Lahia (715-790), who was a judge of Egypt. What gives this role a special meaning are two accounts of early Islamic historical events, the oldest surviving of their kind: the description of the circumstances of the murder of the third Orthodox caliph after the founder of the Islamic empire, Uthman (Osman), in 656 in Medina. After three military delegations, the strongest of which was the Egyptian, had unsuccessfully negotiated with him important reforms in the empire which had become necessary as a result of abuse and nepotism, they killed him. This murder had the effect of an earthquake in the Islamic world, especially if one keeps an eye on the question of theocracy in the exercise of Islamic power, according to which the caliph counted as the successor of the Prophet in the full sense of the word and as the "shadow of Allah" on earth, an ideology of power that was further elaborated under the Umayyad dynasty (661-750) and subsequent dynasties. Of particular interest is certainly the self-defense of the caliph after he learned that the delegations had returned to Medina for the second time In order to kill him, he emphasized in his plea his role in Islam, namely that he was fourth in line, that he was the Prophet's son-in-law, and that he had collected the Koran Heads of the delegations panicked and were then attacked by a relative and ally of the caliph, the governor of Syria, Moawija, who later became the founder of the Umayyad n dynasty, cunningly persecuted and killed.

Furthermore, the siege and the destruction of the Kaaba are described as well as the murder of the Umayyad governor of the Hejaz, Abdallah Ibn Al-Zubayr, who had declared himself the counter-caliph, who was in office in Mecca. The text depicts him praying in front of two loyal servants in the mosque before the cruel but very loyal governor of Iraq attacked and dismembered him. The ruler of Mecca is considered one of the greatest heroes of early Islam in Islamic history, and the text shows it very clearly by even highlighting a very learned side in him. Another very interesting page is the numerous explanations on philological and semantic questions, above all on the word "conspiracy, catastrophe ...", which is documented for the first time in connection with these events that fundamentally shook early Islam.

A judge's private library

The monograph on the content and author of the papyrus roll emphasizes the special importance of the author, who had transformed his house into a library unique for the time, in which books were collected by Egyptian and foreign scholars who came to Egypt or who he was in Abroad, so that in the course of his scholarly life many originals or copies of originals came together, which his numerous Egyptian students copied and edited under his supervision.

There is no doubt that his private library contained books, but without the Heidelberg papyri and other Arabic manuscripts from the same period, such information would have remained without evidence and therefore remained purely theoretical. Only the Heidelberg Papyri and the associated material, which comes from the same school of the judge, be it in the form of an original that was created or was deposited there, or a copy that was made in connection with this library, gives such information solid ground . The master of this Egyptian school went down in the history of Egyptian scholarship of his time as "the man with the shoulder bag" because he wandered the country with a bag around his neck and asked every scholar, especially foreign scholars, if he had something to sell or trade. And so he was able to increase the originals and copies of his large collection. It is therefore not surprising to discover some important traces, especially in connection with his name, which enable a more solid basis for the reconstruction of the early Islamic activities of scholars in Egypt. This judge appears to be an ideal scholar who himself wrote texts and made copies, dictated and had them copied, whereby he used to receive many scientists, students, colleagues or guests and himself traveled in search of scientific sources.

Four categories of academic activities can be included in this library or directly related to it, which must be documented by handwritten material:

(a) Production of the author himself or fonts produced on his behalf by his students. The said papyrus scroll has been handed down by a disciple, Uthman Ibn Salih (761-834), according to the authority of his master, as was customary in the first Islamic centuries.

(b) Productions by non-Egyptian scholars, although Egyptian students, especially the above-mentioned master, were at work. These include the story of King David and the biography or "campaigns" of the Prophet Mohammed - both terms were used as synonyms in early Islam. They go back to the judge of Sana Wahb Ibn Munabbih, whose material was finally fixed in writing by his grandchild (ne varietur). One copy of each came into the private library of Abdallah Ibn Lahias, since the same pupil of the latter handed down both papyri (and other authors adopted his version in their books).

(c) Productions by other non-Egyptian scholars who settled in Egypt or who stayed longer: A very extensive book on the stories of the prophets in Islam, written at the beginning of the ninth century by Wathima Ibn Musa Ibn Al-Furat (d. 851) was laid down. A copy of it has been handed down from his son (d. 902). The work consisted of two parts, each on more than 400 pages written in small letters; unfortunately only the second part, from Moses to the rise of Islam, has survived. The first part, from the beginning of creation to the appearance of Moses, was probably destroyed very early by natural disasters. It is the oldest surviving work of its kind on the history of the prophets in Islam, which has received earlier smaller versions, such as the papyrus on David, and received it for posterity. Together with the analyzed papyri, it allows new insights into early Islamic literary history, which puts it in a completely new light and gives it a more solid foundation.

This category includes other works by Egyptian students of the Egyptian master, such as the most extensive collection of Islamic traditions by the student Abdallah Ibn Wahb (743 - 812), which has survived on papyrus and was published in 1939 and 1948 by a Parisian colleague; unfortunately only partially, many fragments have remained unprocessed until now. Or the second surviving book on Islamic asceticism by the student Asad Ibn Musa (750-827), who descended from the Umayyad dynasty, which was also published in the series Codices Arabici Antiqui.

In addition, there are countless documents about private and business life, about administrative questions, which were particularly numerous in Egypt and of which many thousands can be found in all papyrus collections, especially in Vienna, and which have been worked on for years - by the author of this Article, two volumes were published in 1993 and 1995, a third is in preparation.

Egypt has preserved all of this and more hidden material, although much has also been lost there, while no originals from the seventh and first half of the eighth centuries have survived from Umayyad Syria and Abbasid Iraq.

With the help of the above-mentioned papyri and books, one can systematically sift through, re-arrange and survey this early literature and follow its stages of transmission more solidly, because it can be substantiated and linguistically and historically framed in a comparative way - even if only with individual old evidence. A few brief observations should clarify this. They concern important works about Altarabia or the early Abbasid period: the oldest surviving fragments of the Arabian Nights and the oldest known book about Yemen in Islam.

In the context of this text the problems of the origin of the oldest collection of these narratives of “A Thousand and One Nights” cannot be discussed, the supposed origin of which goes back to the early Abbasid period after the founding of the new capital Baghdad in 762. A widespread view that can be better substantiated in view of the new findings, but also has to be revised as regards the narrative genre of individual parts. There are two reasons for this: The narrative literature in Arabia, already in Altarabia and even more so in Islamic times, from the seventh century onwards, is proven by the material mentioned as a fact, the existence of which one can no longer question, while one can no longer question now spoke about it in purely theoretical terms, as if it had been circulated by the Islamic scholars in support of Islamic goals. All books that were written in early Islamic times can be traced back to narrators who were born and raised in pre-Islamic times. They lived in an ancient Arabian tradition, that of storytelling, as clearly shown in the oldest book on Yemen. It originated under the Caliph Moawija (reign 661 - 680), the founder of the Umayyad dynasty. Its content was presented to the ruler by a narrator who was brought from Yemen to Damascus around 662 and was of biblical age. He was considered the best narrator of his time for the history of Yemen. So he became the “night entertainer and advisor to the caliph” and told him the “story” of his homeland in a fabulous way, from the beginning of creation. The narrator tried to connect Yemen with the world of the Bible, but by adding a few things to make his statements more reliable for the caliph. So the whole book was created to the complete satisfaction of Moawija, who ordered his Divan officials to put the material down in writing and to associate it with the name of his narrator, so the introductory words of the book.

The narrated text about the history of Yemen is unfortunately not handed down to us in the original version, but in a later version from the ninth century. Looking at the introductory information about the circumstances in which it came into being, one notices that certain traditional terms are used which are typical of the above-mentioned papyri and which were no longer used shortly afterwards. This terminology inevitably leads to a time when such language usage was widespread, that is, the text can be classified with greater certainty in the epoch of the papyri of the traditional school of the judge of Egypt.

The narrative style at night was very old in the Orient

The copies of the papyri no longer contain such technical terms. Because they are a few decades younger, and something important had happened in the meantime: With the growth of the Islamic empire, it became necessary to use writing as an instrument of power and the connection between the Islamic provinces, also in daily business life and in culture to develop properly. A systematization of the study of the sciences was closely linked to this. Small writings became great compendia; Miscell developed into ever thicker, sometimes multi-volume works. Therefore, a specialization was necessary, which was initially carried out in terms of language. This can best be illustrated by the book on the history of the biblical prophets in Islam: Although the David story was copied verbatim from the papyrus, both do not have the same title, which leads back to around the beginning of the ninth century and as a dividing point in the use of the technical Terminology can be considered. This is a big step towards the origin.

In the book of “A Thousand and One Nights”, only a fragment of the original version of which was published in 1949 by an American Arabist, the use of some vocabulary in the title confirms this fact. If one adds that the narrative genre is documented by earlier book versions in Islam, which were circulated orally long before the texts of “A Thousand and One Nights” and a little later in writing, one must deduce from this that the narrative style at night in the Orient was very old and that it finds its oldest Islamic confirmation in the book on Yemen at the time of Moawija. Another fragment, published by the same American in 1972, but not identified by her in connection with its narrator, on closer analysis turned out to be a small source of a larger story in the book of “A Thousand and One Nights”. Here the great lines of the ideal girl Tawaddud are already laid out, to whom a chapter will later be devoted.

Of eminent importance, however, is that the material could be traced back to the same epoch as the papyri in the house of the Egyptian judge. Since the book “A Thousand and One Nights” also contains many typically Arabic narrative pieces that have nothing to do with Persia and whose origin is at least the seventh and the beginning of the eighth century, we can conclude that an Arabic part of this collection was already in circulation, which was later easily inserted after the translation of other Persian parts. Such fragments are the best evidence of this, especially since the narrators must have visited the famous library of the judge Abdallah Ibn Lahia. Viewed in this way, the private library takes on a different status and can be seen as one of the greatest centers for the care of Islamic culture in the first two Islamic centuries. The whole thing gets a particularly fascinating emphasis when one considers that a friend of his, "the uncrowned prince of Egypt", authoritative scientist and contemporary, Al-Layth Ibn Sad (713-791), him like most scholars from Arabia Time financially supported. He had also become much richer through his scientific skills, because the great Abbasid caliph Harun Al-Raschid had found out about it in Baghdad and rewarded him more than generously. This made the caliph the greatest patron of his time. These good relations with the ruler of Baghdad, which were further developed by a Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria on the basis of successful medical treatment by one of his wives, led to a significant improvement in the situation in Egypt and thus to the reconstruction of the country's destroyed churches . A truly nostalgic time, in which science led to great fame, fabulous fortune and a conciliatory coexistence of religions.

Professor Dr. Raif Georges Khoury
Seminar for Languages ​​and Cultures of the Middle East, Sandgasse 7, 69117 Heidelberg,
Telephone (06221) 54 29 69